We decided to take the risk of traveling this Christmas after two years of staying put. We flew to Bethesda to visit Andrew’s parents (known to the kids as “Grummy and Grandpa Stape”). Andrew’s brother, David, also visited with his family (Nancy, Raven, and Max). We were nervous about COVID the whole time, but multiple self-tests have come out negative, so we think we made it.
We avoided indoor activities beyond the family, but had a great time skating and exploring the National Mall. Pictures below capture a bit of the spirit (click on them for larger versions).
And, a video of Raven and Nancy doing a spin on the ice:
We usually avoid places like Legoland. They’re expensive, crowded, and cater to a materialist brand-oriented ethos that we dislike. Did I mention expensive? But this year, knowing that we were going to San Diego, and we might not be back until Griffin’s too old, we considered checking it out. Grummy and Grandpa Stape jumped in, offering to give Griffin and Maggie gift certificates for their birthdays. That clinched it, and the kids were bouncing with excitement during the intervening weeks.
To our great surprise, all five of us had a great time and we stayed all day… we closed out the park! We went on a cloudy Wednesday and the park wasn’t as mobbed as usual. Lines were short, people (guests and staff) were kind and cheerful, and food options were better than expected. Oliver even took an afternoon nap in the stroller while Griffin and Maggie played at the waterpark. Lounging in a cabana while the older kids played and Oliver slept was not-at-all what I expected from a trip to Legoland. Moreover, the lego models were wicked cool.
Oliver is ready
Oliver eaten by a lion
Daddy let’s Oliver drive (not)
Daddy is mesmerized
Is this on Coruscant somewhere?
Glimpse of NYC
This idol stands above the wave pool. We’re in the cabana, chilling out.
During the week of June 16, we took our second trip to Camp du Nord. (Our first visit was the summer before Oliver was born.) It was a glorious way to kick off our summer. We were way up north, totally unplugged, and getting into a more natural rhythm (going to bed early, rising with the sun, getting dirty, washing in the lake, walking everywhere, etc.). We stayed in a platform cabin (“Deer”) which was perfect for us. Here’s the description from the website:
Deer Platform Cabin 6 â€” Enjoy one of our â€œoff-the-gridâ€ eco-cabins. These newer cabins are simple, yet very comfortable. A screened porch with picnic table and stainless steel table make outdoor cooking a breeze. The sleeping room includes 2 elevated long twin over queen bunk beds. Nearby water spigot, showers, biffies, and refrigeration are available. Solar lanterns and all dishware and cooking utensils are provided.
We stayed in a backpacking tent last time, and although we love tent camping, we found it challenging to manage for a full week with cooking, washing, bugs, and unpredictable weather. The cabin gave us more sheltered space without adding electricity and plumbing.
Our pictures are in the gallery below, arranged roughly in chronological order. Note that we only took pictures of a few moments during the trip. Unpictured elements that we all remember fondly included, in no particular order:
age group activities for the kids in the mornings
cooked meals with the community up at the dining hall
afternoon ice cream at the trading post
the polar bear plunge into the lake every morning
hiking on the nearby trails
easily achieving 20,000+ steps each day by simply walking around camp (if you wanted to go beyond that, the hiking trails extend pretty much infinitely)
We were just stopped at the airport in Kauai because our shoes were too muddy. You can’t export soil from Hawaii to the mainland because it may contain pests. So we have to scrub our shoes and bring them back for inspection.
Fortunately, everyone has been friendly and we have tons of time before our flight.
Today we rose bright and early and drove to the end of the road to hike theÂ Kalalau Trail. When we arrived at the trail head, however, we discovered that it was closed due to the recent heavy rains. Not to be deterred, we hightailed it to the opposite side of the island, where there are numerous additional trail options. (Actually, the road is like a horseshoe with both ends in the northwest, separated by a few miles of the insanely rugged NÄ Pali coast, so we ended up not far from where we started, but 4000 feet up.)
We hiked along the upper rim of Kalalau Valley (4000 feet above our original hike) and then went through the AlakaÊ»i Swamp, purportedly the highest altitude swamp in the world (I’ve read differing accounts). We ended up at the Kilohana lookout where we could peer through rifts in the clouds across the Wainiha, LumahaÊ»i, and Hanalei valleys. As the crow flies, it was hardly any distance to our rental far below, but the sheer cliffs and walls of tropical vegetation deterred us from any foolhardy bushwhacking.
A highlight of this hike was running into someone we knew! Three summers ago, we visited Nate and Christine in Falmouth and met Nate’s friends, Ben and Emory (see our July 2016 post with pictures of Emory). Emory lives on Kaua’i. We knew this ahead of time and had corresponded with him about our trip, but hadn’t made any firm plans to get together. Imagine our surprise as we clambered up a muddy trail and bumped into him! We love the serendipity of it all.
View along the drive to the trailhead.
We made it through the swamp!
Shoes at the start.
The Fitbit approves.
Shoes at the end.
We were proud of those muddy shoes, but they caused us some unexpected hassles at the airport on our way out.
We awoke this morning trapped at the northern tip of the island! It rained heavily overnight causing the authorities to close the Hanalei bridge.Â This was awesome for two reasons. First, all the other vacationers on the island couldn’t swarm up to the north-end beaches and trails (as they usually do). Second, the atmosphere appeared to have finally run out of moisture. Sweet.
We spent the morning at Tunnels Beach, near our rental, swimming and wishing that we’d remembered to grab snorkeling gear. There were plenty of fish to be seen even without a mask. Eventually we headed into Hanalei for lunch. Most restaurants were closed because employees live on the other side of the bridge, but we were able to find delicious BBQ at Chicken in a BarrelÂ followed by our first shave ice from Wishing Well. If you’ve never had one, where a snow cone is bland, crunchy, and gross, a shave ice is fresh, soft, and delicious. They’re made by literally shaving a block of ice with a sharp blade, producing a fine powder. Add fresh fruit and/or fruit syrups, other toppings (like coconut cream), and maybe a scoop of ice cream, and you end up with a divine treat on a warm day.
Later in the afternoon, the bridge opened so we went south to check out the Kilauea Lighthouse. Alas, it closed just as we pulled up. Plenty of beauty nearby, regardless. We realized that we wanted to be on the beach again for sunset, so we headed back north, grabbed snorkeling supplies from our rental (love it that they have a bin to share) and returned to Tunnels Beach for a jaw-dropping end to a perfect day.
Waterfall by the road
A modern ford: the road is built for the stream to cross over it.
Great snorkeling out among the rocks and coral.
First time with the top down!
Lunch lizard (a guest, not on the menu).
Shave ice after lunch
The Tropical Something
Just an endangered monk seal relaxing on the beach.
Sunset panorama – east
Sunset panorama – west
April 2018 Addendum:
Although we thought the flooding was severe while we were on Kaua’i, the island was devastated by dramaically more serious flooding in April. By comparison with the USGS flood gauge at the top of this post, see the chart below for both March and April. Our “flood” appears before the Mar 17 line. TheÂ real flood hit on April 14. See also these dramaticÂ before and after pictures published in Town & Country.
It was pouring today. Not the light mists, drizzle, and beams of sunshine that we encountered on our first two days, but nonstop, torrential rain. So we went to a fancy spa for glorious massages. Dreamy. Afterwards we were allowed to use the spa facilities including the hotel’s fancy “meandering pool.”
The great thing about tropical rain is that it’s not really that cold. Chilly, to be sure, but not insufferable. Luckily, it was too chilly for most guests, so Sarah and I shared the massive pool (and multiple associated hot tubs) with just a few other guests. I would never want to stay at a hotel like this, but the pool was amazing, with multiple waterfalls (including one with a cave behind it), two waterslides, a sandy zero-depth-entry faux beach, and the aforementioned hot tubs. See some pics below.
In the cave
Behind the waterfall
Heavy rain at the pool
A few short video clips:
Little did we know while frolicking in the pool that the rainfall total was unusually high, especially higher up on the mountain. After drying off, we strolled around downtown Kapaa and ended up stopping for dinner at the Olympic Cafe. Our waitress informed us that the only bridge to our part of the island had been closed since the morning. (Apparently it had closed shortly after we crossed it on our way to the spa.) She thought it would be closed overnight until the river level dropped. Yikes!
I confirmed the closure online, discovering that they close the Hanalei bridge whenever the water level rises six feet above normal. Astonishingly, the USGS provides excellent graphs of water levels for just about every river on the island. (Nerd glory!) They update automatically every ten-minutes; this is what we found:
Note that today’s level (March 14) went above six feet in the morning, peaked around noon, and has been falling ever since. Based on this, we were hopeful that the bridge would reopen, but weren’t sure.
Gotta love being on vacation, though, because who cares? Worst case: we find another hotel room for the night or sleep in the car. Neither are ideal, especially facing an unexpected expense, but both would be fun in their own way. So we ordered Mai Tais and relaxed at the Olympic.
Mai Tai time!
Eventually, we decided to drive north and take our chances. Miraculously, as we approached the bridge, the police opened it and we were part of the first group of cars allowed to cross. The vacation gods are smiling upon us.
Our first full day on Kauaâ€™i: a walk on Ke’e beach at the beginning of the NÄ Pali trail (weâ€™ll attempt that later), a drive around the island that included a Russian fort, Waimea Canyon (!!!), and a chance run in with one of Sarah’s former SCA crew members (from the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness), Sam, at dinner.
Scary aside: while we were at the Waimea Canyon view platform, a young couple decided to take pictures of each other balancing and doing yoga poses on the railing above a sheer drop. They appeared to have some slackline experience, but we both feared that we were about to witness a Darwin Award.
Departed Saint Paul at 7:00 AM. Arrived in Lihue, Kaua’i, at 2:45 PM.Â The kids are in good hands with Sarah’s parents, to whom we are deeply grateful.
Today was about arriving, picking up the rental car (Sarah convinced them to upgrade us to a Mustang convertible at no additional cost), driving up to the north end of the island (we rented a place near Hanalei Bay), buying some groceries, and settling into our treehouse (a cozy studio apartment perched on massive three-story pillars). See pics below.
Ready for takeoff!
Over the Pacific.
We’d heard about the feral chickens and sure enough, this fellow greeted us at the airport.
On the road…
Pacific view from the highway.
View from our lanai.
Lizard in our kitchen reminds me of the chingchoks we had in Thailand and Singapore.
Travel with three is definitely harder with three than with two. Even though Griffin and Maggie are great travelers at this point, they still need a fair amount of guidance and support, especially around luggage handling: “Don’t run over that lady’s toes!” “Your bag is tipping over!” “Your coat is dragging on the floor.” And then, of course, they simply don’t have the muscle power yet to get bags onto shuttles or sometimes even escalators. Add Oliver to the mix and at least one parent is relatively hamstrung. He comes with additional supplies too. We ended up traveling “light” with merely five suitcases, five backpacks and diaper bags, two booster seats, one full car seat, and the seemingly infinite writhing tentacles of our winter coats. There were a few moments when we were entirely beholden to the kindness of strangers.
But we made it, unscathed, and the flight itself was largely peaceful. Let the mayhem of a seven cousin holiday begin!